The Haiku Murder

First published in the “Briefly Reviewed” section of Frogpond 39:3, Autumn 2016, page 115.

The Haiku Murder by Fran Pickering (2014, no publisher listed). 300 pages, 5×7¾ inches, perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-5009-6192-3. $12.99 from the author or Amazon.

If you love haiku (and who doesn’t?) and you love mystery stories, Fran Pickering’s The Haiku Murder is for you. It’s one of her four “Josie Clark in Japan” mystery series books, along with The Tokyo Karaoke Murder, The Cherry Blossom Murder, and The Bullet Train Murder. Josie joins her company on a team-building excursion from Tokyo to Matsuyama, coordinated by Haiku Country Tours, to participate in a haiku-writing outing and to visit haiku sites in Matsuyama, birthplace of Shiki, Kyoshi, and other famous poets. Then an enigmatic company leader falls from the top of Matsuyama Castle—or was he pushed? Josie seeks to find out what really happened, and to locate his missing messenger bag. What was so important in that bag? Haiku make their most prominent appearance in the opening chapters, and they serve as a key plot device, but beyond that this novel may appeal more for its engaging depiction of modern Japan, and many contemporary and traditional cultural practices, such as rituals for the murdered man’s funeral. If you know Tokyo and Matsuyama, you’ll recognize many famous locations, and yet also ordinary locations too, and you’ll feel like you’re there. Some characters are a little hard to keep straight, but mostly this is a fun-to-read whodunit, with cultural observations intertwined—and haiku.